Pursuing the NYPD’s Panopticon

Photo by Barry Hoggart

During New York’s wild real estate boom, nearly every brownstone in Harlem seemed slated for renovation. So when the NYPD introduced its latest surveillance technology, Sky Watch — a mobile, collapsable prison-style surveillance tower equipped with at least half a dozen cameras — it was a foregone conclusion that its deployments to locales like 129th and Lenox Avenue were harbingers of the gentrification wave, reassurance for paranoid urban prospectors.

After all, military-style security booths had long dotted the darker residential streets of Morningside Heights, reassuring the parents of students at Columbia University and Barnard College that their children were under guard. Still, Sky Watch appeared to take the NYPD’s hired “eyes on the street” to the next level — literally.

Like Bentham’s panopticon, Sky Watch’s intended purpose is to instill discipline, deterring crime where it has spiked. That’s made its recession-era whereabouts a bit surprising.

In the past few months, Sky Watch has made debut appearances on the cobblestone streets of upscale DUMBO, outside the US Open tennis tournament in Queens, and, below, keeping watch over one of the last porn shops on Eighth Avenue, just west of Times Square, as if the cancer of urban blight such stores were once thought to represent suddenly threatened to reclaim the famously Disneyfied neighborhood for smut.


During this uncharacteristically rainy summer, violent crime remains low in New York. That may mean that wealthier (or, at least, more crowded) parts of the city have seen an uptick in petty larceny. It’s only certain that, if the NYPD rolled Sky Watch into gentrifying neighborhoods as a form of reassurance, its appearance in more affluent, popular ones is having quite the opposite effect.

This entry was written by Christopher Szabla , posted on Saturday July 18 2009at 02:07 pm , filed under Society and Culture, United States and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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